In order for a disabled person to receive disability benefits, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid, he/she must demonstrate that he/she needs the income to live independently. Any assets, even gifts from family members, may count against him/her, and could reduce his/her benefits. There are two ways that family members can contribute to a disabled person without those contributions affecting their benefits- special needs trusts and California ABLE accounts.
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Special Needs Trust
A special needs trust is a trust that is set up naming the disabled person as the beneficiary. To be effective, a special needs trust must be irrevocable. A third-party special needs trust can be set up by the person’s parents, grandparents, siblings, etc. Once set up, anyone can contribute to it and there are no limits on the amount a person can contribute. The beneficiary must personally benefit from the money in the trust. The trustee controls the assets, and the disabled person will have no actual control over the how the trustee spends them. The trustee can use the money in the trust for any expenses, except food or housing costs. Other than those two restrictions, the money can be spent on anything, so long as the beneficiary benefits from the monies.
California ABLE Accounts
Another option for people with disabilities is an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account. California ABLE accounts have tax advantages over a special needs trust, and unlike special needs trusts, the person with the disability, not a trustee, controls the money, giving the disabled person more control. An ABLE account is easier and cheaper to set up than a special needs trust.
However, California ABLE accounts have some restrictions. Federal law requires that the disability began before the disabled person turned 26. The money in the ABLE account must pay for qualifying expenses. Qualifying expenses include daily living expenses, food, education, housing, transportation, health care, legal fees, and any other approved expenses. This requires someone with an ABLE account to keep careful records of his/her spending. Using money from a California ABLE account on unapproved expenses can reduce SSI benefits.
Currently there is an annual $15,000 limit on third party contributions to an ABLE account. A disabled person may also contribute up to $12,060 a year of his/her own money to the account. This allows a person to save money without the assets counting against him/her. Once an ABLE account reaches $100,000, SSI benefits will stop. They will re-continue if the account balance falls below $100,000. Lastly, if the disabled person dies, money in the ABLE account will repay Medicaid, even money contributed by a third- party. Money in a third-party special needs trust does not need to repay Medicaid after the death of the beneficiary.
Special needs trusts and California ABLE accounts offer two ways a disabled person can work around asset limitations and still receive their disability benefits. Because of the limitations of each type, a special needs person may need both types of accounts.
If you need to set up a Special Needs Trust, contact A People’s Choice at 800-747-2780.
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